As expected, Microsoft today shipped Windows 8 Release Preview, the final sneak peek the company will offer the general public before the operating system goes on sale later this year.
Microsoft also said it's on track to introduce Windows 8 -- and its cousin, Windows RT, the offshoot that will run on the ARM architecture -- in time to make the holiday selling season this year.
Release Preview's debut today was tipped by Microsoft late Wednesday when the company briefly announced the launch. That blog post, which was pulled just minutes after it went live, was tagged with today's date.
Microsoft opened the download gates for Preview shortly after 12 p.m. PT.
In a blog post, Steven Sinofsky, Microsoft's top Windows executive, touted the Release Preview as the "final pre-release" build, and talked about the next milestone, RTM, for "release to manufacturing," the label that describes the completed version used by computer makers to pre-install the operating system on new PCs.
"We will still be changing Windows 8," said Sinofsky of the path from today's Release Candidate to RTM, a confirmation of what the company had said recently when it told customers that the final user interface (UI) would be missing from the Preview.
Traditionally, release candidates -- analogous to Microsoft's label of Release Preview -- are feature complete, in that all final features are included.
Sinofsky did not spell out a ship date for Windows 8, but did provide a general timeline for the rest of the development process.
"If the feedback and telemetry on Windows 8 and Windows RT match our expectations, then we will enter the final phases of the RTM process in about 2 months," he said. "If we are successful in that, then we are tracking to our shared goal of having PCs with Windows 8 and Windows RT available for the holidays."
An RTM of late July would be in line with the pace of Windows 7 in 2009. Windows 7 went on sale -- and new PCs sporting the OS hit shelves -- in the second half of October of that year.
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is email@example.com.